Va.: Aggressively regulate menhaden harvests
Here we go again. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has held hearings up and down the East Coast about what to do about menhaden: Should we keep catching the same amount, catch more, catch less, or do an ecosystem study to see how menhaden fit into the scheme of saving the Chesapeake Bay?
We have been tr ying to bring the oysters back with various amounts of success, but we have a fish that can do a better job if left alone. The millions of menhaden that are removed every year eat millions of pounds of plankton. They should be left in the water to do what nature intended.
If you are wondering why these fish are so important, it’s because they are food for most of the other fish that eat fish: the predatory fish. If it weren’t for the fish that eat plankton, there would be no other fish.
What we have now is one company, Omega Protein, that is decimating the menhaden population. How does it happen? Greed and money. Virginia is where most of the menhaden are caught. The menhaden are regulated by the Virginia legislature in Virginia waters, including the bay. They should be regulated by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, but the ASMFC regulates the fish from the shore to 3 miles out into the ocean. There have been bills in the Virginia legislature to move regulation of menhaden to the VRMC, but those bills never get out of subcommittee.
As I write this, there will be another attempt this year to get a bill out of the subcommittee and maybe to the floor. Maryland does not allow menhaden-reduction boats into the Maryland’s part of the bay.
We are ultimately responsible to see that these creatures are provided for as nature intended. Haven’t we seen enough of what happens when we don’t pay attention to the environment around us? Decimation of buffaloes, passenger pigeons and now rhinoceroses and elephants all are examples of what happens if we don’t get involved. But it is not just land animals, it is also water animals like whales and cod. And who can forget the striped bass when their numbers got so low that a five-year moratorium was placed on fishing them?
Yes, I remember the days when I could count 30 to 40 boats on the Potomac every weekend during the summer, and they were all catching fish. There are hardly any now. I remember catching crabs just by walking the beach with a net and a bucket. I remember the many schools of menhaden on the river in the fall and many seagulls diving to pick up the scraps from the bluefish. Yes, the “tragedy of the commons” is alive and well.
So many decisions we make favor us and not the environment. I hope that in the future we will not hear somebody asking, “Why didn’t somebody do something about the menhaden when we knew how important they were and that they were being decimated?” Bill Barlett, Valley Lee